Akeldama (Aramaic for Field of Blood) is the traditional site where Judas Iscariot died. It is located in the Valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem. This pretty valley has been identified with the biblical site of child sacrifices to the pagan god Moloch. It is mentioned in numerous historic writings as a place of brimstone and fire, hell, and damnation.
Because of its association with these abominable activities, the name of the valley is found in the Hebrew word for hell - Gei-Hinnom. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Gehenna as a place of unquenchable fire where both the body and soul are destroyed. The association with hell is long gone, and this picturesque valley is a popular spot for picnics, hiking, and rock climbing.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Onuphrius stands where Judas Iscariot is believed to have hung himself. It is built on the southern slope of Hinnom Valley and faces Mount Zion and Jerusalem’s Old City. In Matthew, we read how Iscariot was so riddled with shame after betraying Jesus, that he took his payment from the priests and threw the silver coins back to the priests in the Temple. They said they could not take it because it was blood money. So the money was used to buy a potter’s field to make a cemetery for strangers and non-Jews.
The monastery, on the site of the biblical potter’s field, at Akeldama is surrounded by ancient burial tombs and caves. Many hold the bones of visiting pilgrims from foreign lands who never made it home. The caves may have been occupied by hermits before the monastery was constructed. The monastery was built in 1874 on the remains of an earlier church and burial caves. It is dedicated to the 3rd-4th-century monk and hermit, Onuphrius.
He traveled to the Holy Land from Egypt and spent time in solitary prayer in one of the caves near the monastery. The saintly monk was famed for wearing only a loincloth of leaves, and for having an extravagant beard that reached his feet. His food was brought to him by birds and angels every Sunday.
On the grounds of the monastery are numerous burial tombs where bodies were laid until they had decomposed. Then the bones were collected and placed in an ossuary. The Crusaders added a Charnel house, an underground vault where human bones are stored. Here they placed thousands of bones from over 50 patients who died each day in the Knights of St. John’s Hospital in Jerusalem’s Old City.
One of the highlights of the monastery is the chapel, housed in a Second Temple period burial cave. The chapel has existed since the early 4th century. You can still see the openings carved in the cave walls, where bodies would have been placed. There is also a cave that is believed to be where the apostles hid from the Romans after Jesus’ arrest. On the same site as the monastery is the Tomb of Saint Juvenalius, the first Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Two silver scrolls dating back to 600BC were found in an excavated tomb near the monastery. The scrolls were inscribed with blessings from the Book of Numbers and are the earliest known texts from the First Testament. Today the monastery is run by a group of Greek Orthodox nuns. The feast of St. Onuphrius is celebrated at the monastery each year on June 25.
If you are interested in visiting Akeldama, feel free to join one of our Jerusalem private tours.